Anoikis resistance is a prerequisite for circulating tumor cells to survive. However, the mechanism underlying anoikis resistance is poorly understood. In the current study, the effect of TNF receptor–associated factor 6 (TRAF6)-induced NF-kB activation on anoikis susceptibility in tumor cells was evaluated. Differential TRAF6-binding proteins in anoikis-sensitive versus anoikis-resistant tumor cells were screened by LC/MS-MS analysis. The effects of TRAF6-binding proteins on the stability of TRAF6, the activation of NF-kB signaling and anoikis susceptibility in tumor cells were detected. We found that the loss of TRAF6 expression is an important molecular event linked to anoikis. X-linked inhibitor of apoptosis protein (XIAP), an E3 ligase, can bind, ubiquitinate, and degrade TRAF6 and may lead to inactivation of NF-κB signaling and anoikis sensitivity. High expression of prohibitin 1 (PHB1) competes with XIAP for binding to TRAF6 and confers anoikis resistance to tumor cells. PHB1 and TRAF6 knockdown eliminated tumor cells from the circulation in vivo. Significant correlations between elevated PHB1 and TRAF6 expression and distant metastasis were observed in patients with oral cancer. Collectively, we elucidated a novel mechanism governing anoikis. Our data also indicated that TRAF6 and PHB1 are potential therapeutic targets for tumor cells disseminating in the circulation.

Implications:

Our data implicate that PHB1 competes with XIAP for binding to TRAF6 and confers anoikis resistance to tumor cells.

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